#17, NOVEMBER 2004




If you like up-to-date psychedelic music (no paisley whatsoever) and you haven't heard the LP A Nervous Splendor, by Rochester NY combo Pengo, get it now! There's still some copies left as of this writing, as you can read below, in this interview with Pengo co-founder, multi-instrumentalist, fire-fighter, metal-head, and all-around bon vivant John Schoen.

So how was the tour? I heard rumors of you guys putting out wildfires in San Bernadino. What were the top three shows? The tour was described as something like "a journey into the heart of darkness, America's underground psychedelic labyrinth." So what's the status of the labyrinth these days?

The tour went well. It was the first time we had made it out to the West Coast. We were in Southern California during the height of the wildfires. It was completely surreal. We stayed at a friend's house in San Clemente and it almost burned down while we where there. The fire came over the ridge and down the hill and was about 300 feet from his house. We were hosing down the brush as it approached. I'll never forget the sound of all the wood and dried brush burning really loud. Very, very creepy. Luckily helicopters made it there in time and dropped tons of chemical stuff on the fire and contained it before it reached the house. It was a close call though. Later that day we went swimming in the ocean and ate veggie pizza to celebrate the total fucked-up-ness that is the Schwarzenegger state. My favorite shows were probably Los Angeles, and our two-night stand in Nashville and Detroit. Oh yeah, in Las Vegas everyone at our show was completely messed on drugs. We made this one dude throw up during our set. Half the crowd was on speed and the other half were tripping on mushrooms. Later that night I got this Vietnam vet totally riled up and he started telling these terrible stories about killing people, cutting ears off of kids' heads etc. All the people around us on mushrooms where totally freaking out. This was a pretty typical night on the tour for us.

Tell us about Rochester. Are you originally from there? You get lake effect snow there? What do you think of the Great Lakes region, all these gnarly wintry cities like Rochester, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay . . . The first band I really heard of from Rochester was Coffee -- what was going on before them? How did you get into the Rochester scene?

Rochester is located in western upstate New York. We are about 7 hours away from NYC and about 3 hours away from Toronto. Buffalo is about a hour west from us and Syracuse is about a hour east from us. We are right on the shore of Lake Ontario and yes, we get tons of lake effect snow. Our winters are long and brutal.
      Rochester is a city that's been in decline for about 20 years now. It's pretty much a smaller version of Detroit. Its downtown is empty and there's big chunks that are pretty much wastelands. We have a pretty intense murder rate (second only to NYC in the state) and a corrupt police department. It's a very screwed up place. I grew up about twenty miles east of the city in a town called Webster. It was a pretty rural area when I was a kid but now it's a totally overdeveloped stripmall-infested suburb of the city.

      I started going to shows in the city pretty early on to escape the complete dullness of my hometown. There was a pretty awful punk scene in Rochester in the early 80's but slowly kids my age started to form hardcore bands and things started to get better. There were tons of weird bands that started popping up around '84-85 that were all completely different from each other and would play on the same hardcore bills. Tons of touring bands came thru around this time too. Pretty much all through my high school years there was at least one good live show going on every week.
     My first band After School Special (A.S.S.) never got out of Webster but my next band Solution? played tons of shows in Rochester and eventually out of state throughout the Midwest and east coast. This was all while I was still in high school. I've been involved pretty much non-stop with underground music in Rochester ever since.

     Coffee showed up around '94 or so. Coffee was pretty much a recording project for a long time between Tim Poland (from my favorite Rochester band Nod) and Dave Cross. I think they had a record and a bunch of tapes out before they even played out for the first time. Pretty much everyone in the weirdo music scene in Rochester has done time in Coffee.

Does Nod predate Coffee? What makes Nod your favorite band? Aren't both Lydia Lunch and Manowar from Rochester? And of course Armand Schaubroeck. Who were some of the other weird bands that started popping up, any lost legends?

Yeah, Nod predates Coffee by a couple of years. Nod is my favorite Rochester band because they continually mutate and change in new directions and they are continually good if not great at whatever avenue they go down. The first time I ever saw them they completely cleared out a packed club by jamming a completely staggering and destroyed cover of "Back in Black" by AC/DC for 20 minutes. They have never been considered cool by the local garage/rock bands. A funny thing about Rochester is that all of the bands that anyone outside of Rochester has heard of are completely ignored in Rochester. You have to go on tour to get any feedback because almost all the people in Rochester are totally not interested in anything other then crappy cover bands or sixties tribute bands.
      Lydia Lunch is from here and so is Wendy O. Williams (she's from Webster). Manowar is from central New York. Armand Schaubroeck is from here and still lives here. He runs this totally retarded place called the House of Guitars. It's basically a big 5 story building completely filled with literally millions of records, tapes, CDs, guitars, amps, drums, t-shirts, videos etc. All jumbled together in a huge mess. A total mess and a nightmare if you're actually looking for something.
Here's just a small list of weirdo Rochester bands from the 80's that were great: Braintree, Bent, Lotus STP, Fertility Rite Brothers, Mr. Clean, Twisted Cross, Elmer Fudd's Gun, Nuns On Death Row, Textured Ceilings, Walk Awkward, Damage Control, Bloody Entrails, Love Dumpster, Crawl, Hunger Artist, Down With People, BGBG, Noxious, Zen Barbie, Van Doits. A couple of them put out 7"s and some of 'em did demo tapes but most just played live and then completely disappeared.

So how did Pengo get started? How did you all meet and how did the band evolve? What can you tell us about these other goofballs in the band, what do they bring into the mix?

Pengo got started around the summer of 1998 to basically piss off as many people in Rochester as possible. I had been the house sound guy at this club called the Bug Jar. Pretty much every touring indie rock/underground band from the mid 90's era played there. I saw so many crappy bands in the 3-4 years that I worked there that I wanted to get revenge. Mostly on the incredibly bad local bands. Our template was the No New York LP, Couch from Michigan, Harry Pussy and the Vienna Aktionists.
     We got booked before we had even had our first practice. I think we jammed together once before our first show which was opening for the Ohio band Gaunt. Our first show was us playing behind a black wall of fabric in complete darkness at extreme volume. The crowd was pretty pissed off and threw lots of beer bottles at us which missed because they couldn't see us behind the black sheets in the dark. Our first couple of years were pretty much in the same line of crowd provoking/fighting and playing spastic no-wave/noise. After awhile we just got bored with even dealing with audiences so we concentrated on making sounds that we wanted to hear and that eventually leads us up to what we are doing now which is basically playing psychedelic music.
     I knew Jason, Joe and Nuuj from hanging around at shows. They all have pretty idiosyncratic/weird personalities and that's great because there can be a lot of tension when you get a bunch of weird people together in the same room. That gets funneled into the creation of some great music. Sometimes things can get a little volatile and out of hand but for the most part everybody's cool. Everyone seems to be on the same vibe most of the time.

Any documentation of the "provoking/fighting and playing spastic no-wave/noise" era? The first Pengo release I came across was the Climbs the Holy Mountain CD, is there a discography before it? How did the concept of playing along with the Jodorowsky film come about? Did you play to the film a lot before doing the recording on the CD, i.e. was it more of a composition or improvisation? On a Jodorowsky tangent, have you seen Fando y Lis? I was pretty damn impressed by it.....

Almost all of Pengo's shows were recorded in some capacity. We also did a lot of recording that never was used for anything. I'm going to be going thru the archives and putting together the best stuff from the first couple of years. Carbon records already said they would release it so release date is late 2004.
      Climbs the Holy Mountain was our first release, it came out at the very end of 1999. The whole idea for doing music for the Jodorowsky movie came about during a discussion about how The Holy Mountain (one of my all time favorite movies) never had a soundtrack LP released for it (unlike El Topo which came out on Apple). We decided to show the first 30 minutes of the film (the part with no dialogue) at a show and do the music to it while the film played. We played along with the film in our practice space a handful of times before the show to work out the appropriate moods the sounds should take to fit with the visuals in the film. After the show I listened to the recording and really liked what I
heard so we decided to put it out as our first release. You can listen to it while watching the movie or you can listen to it in the car or while practicing yoga or getting a buzz on or making dinner. We didn't really think about what other people's reaction to it would be, we just knew we needed to put it out.
     Fando y Lis is awesome. It's the main reason I broke down and bought a DVD player a couple of years ago. Jodorowsky is one of my all time favorite film makers. He treads the same fine line between mystic and bullshitter that Pengo does. I also think a lot of people overlook or don't get the humor in his films. He's a really funny guy.

Why psychedelic music? What is psychedelic music? (A pretty impossible question, just wondering what your take on it is.)

Why psychedelic music? I guess I use that term because it's the only one that I feel remotely comfortable using to describe what we do. I don't know, I hate labels for the most part. But I guess psychedelic music covers a huge area that's not very well defined (at least not in my head) and that's why I used it. I don't know, can you come up with a better term for us?
     What is psychedelic music? The only way I can answer that is by saying I know it when I hear it.

No, I can't come up with a better term for it. It really is a huge area and it's not very well defined in my head either -- and I'm sure it will continue to get more confusing! How did A Nervous Splendor come about? Was the music a lot of hard work or did it just come out? Who brought in the Idi Amin concept? What's next for Haoma Recordings?

Most of A Nervous Splendor was spontaneous. What is on the LP is edited down from lots of different recording sessions. We pretty much have a tape rolling whenever we jam or play a live show.
      The Idi Amin concept was a bit of a obsession with Jason and myself. We were discussing how no one we knew remembered or had ever heard of him. I mean, this guy was on the news non-stop during the 70's. I remember being a little kid and watching the news and being totally frightened and fascinated at the same time. I thought it was kinda interesting how people totally forget about stuff that's not constantly being shoved down their throats via the American media. The more research I did on him the more he freaked me out. The guy was totally insane!!!!! One of the weirdest and most brutal world leaders in modern times. I also totally dug the fact that his last name was Dada.
      As for Haoma, we are planning on releasing a new full length Pengo LP sometime in the late summer.

Explain this from your press release: "1971=2003."

It totally feels like we are repeating the early 70's again. Total bad vibes, fucked evil government, stupid wars, total paranoia, creep-ass cults, heavy downer drug use. The gauntlet has dropped and we are in for some heavy times.

How many copies did you press of Nervous Splendor? Are any still around?

We pressed up 500 copies. There's under 100 left. You can get 'em from me. Email: jschoen@library.rochester.edu. They are $13 ppd.

Any copies of Metallic Overdrive still around? I heard Webster get a shout-out on there. What's The Warhead doing now?

Hanson Records has copies. I have no idea what the Warhead is up to. Someone told me he became a born-again Christian in the early 90's but I have no idea if that's a fact or not. That radio show was the total soundtrack to teenage chaos and debauchery in Webster. I remember being at tons of parties and keggers out in the woods with that show jamming on someone's beat-up boombox. That guy would become more unhinged as the evening went along. You could totally tell he was drinking and doing lines in the studio.

Do you or any Pengo members play on Arthur Doyle's African Love Call LP? If so, can you tell us a little bit about being an Arthur Doyle sideman? How does he lead his bands?

Yeah Nuuj and I are on that LP. Most of that LP is from a show we did at the Astrocade in Philly. Arthur is a serious trip. Very nice but a very heavy dude. I'd seen him play solo a ton of times before I ever jammed with him and I had his records and was a big fan. One of my favorite things I've seen him do is start a set playing just beautiful melodies and doing his sing-song scats and generally getting the crowd into this kinda false sense of safety and then just unloading the heaviest most earth shaking sounds onto everyone there. Just melting people's minds. He can just summon up a cloud of the heaviest, densest sound and just drop it on you, it knocks the wind out of people. People are just stunned.
      He's one of the heaviest players alive. For further proof, listen to the 2xlp he did with the guys from Les Rallizes DeNudes, pure sonic magma.

Time for an obligatory question -- Last five records listened to? Books/mags read? Movies watched?

Hairy Chapter -- Can't Get Through (Second Battle Re-ish)
Sarcophagus -- Cycle of Life (JP-Musiikkiov)
Bruce Ditmas --Yellow (Wizard)
Henry Jacobs --The Wide Weird World of Shorty Petterstien (More Interviews of Our Times) (World Pacific)
DimThings -- A World of Segregation/Tunes From the Garbage (Things Flux Music)
Condemned? -- Humanoid of Biomechanoid? (Nuclear Blast)

Land of a Thousand Balconies, Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archaeologist -- Jack Stevenson
Autumn Rhythm -- Richard Meltzer
Barefoot in the Head -- Brian W. Aldiss
Hello World, A Life in Ham Radio -- Danny Gregory & Paul Sahre
Land of the Lamas, Notes of a Journey Through China, Mongolia and Tibet -- William Woodville Rockhill
Children of the Sun, A Pictorial Anthology from Germany to California 1883-1949 -- Gordon Kennedy

Toto Who Lived Twice
Suicide Club
The Burning Nerve Ending Magic Trick (Sun City Girls)
Summer of Sam
Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot!
The Bed Sitting Room

Besides the 'early Pengo' album on Carbon, what are Pengo's plans for 2004?

We have stuff coming out on the following labels: Qbico, Haoma, AudioBot, Gods of Tundra and Chondritic Sound. Also several tracks for compilation cd's plus some remix work. We are playing at the NO FUN FEST in Brooklyn in March and the Destijl/Freedom From Fest in Minneapolis later this year. Hopefully we will be doing some touring on the East Coast and Midwest also. We would love to hit Europe sometime soon as well.


John Schoen

Jason Finkbeiner

Joe Tunis

R. Nuuja?